Pre­serv­ing sto­ries from home and bat­tle­fronts


THE DIG­I­TAL ar­chive project record­ing Lon­don Jewry’s con­tri­bu­tion to the war ef­fort is to be ex­tended to other re­gions.

Cap­i­tal­is­ing on the in­ter­est in the Armistice cen­te­nary, events will be held in Manch­ester and Liver­pool later this month to launch a North-West ad­di­tion to the Lon­don Jewish Cul­tural Cen­tre project, We Were There Too, whose web­site has re­ceived around 300,000 hits.

Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 2016, We Were There Too has col­lated thou­sands of per­sonal records. Other fea­tures of the site in­clude “her­itage his­tory win­dows” — for ex­am­ple, on the Zion Mule Corps, Jewish po­ets of the First World War and sto­ries such as that of Solomon Solomon, who pi­o­neered the use of cam­ou­flage in war­fare.

It has also digi­tised all First World War ma­te­rial held by the Jewish Mu­seum and mem­o­ra­bilia held by spe­cial­ist col­lec­tors.

“There is some fan­tas­tic ma­te­rial which was at risk of be­ing lost,” said Alan Fell, the project di­rec­tor.

Painstak­ingly il­lus­trated po­ems, es­says and car­toons are among a trea­sure trove of ma­te­rial con­tained in bound vol­umes of work by pupils of the Lib­eral Jewish Syn­a­gogue Jewish staff at Beech House Hos­pi­tal in North Lon­don. Florence Green­berg and a poem from a Lib­eral Jewish Syn­a­gogue pupil

reli­gion school in 1915 and 1916, which had been gather­ing dust in stor­age boxes.

“We are pre­serv­ing fam­ily le­gends that are ex­tra­or­di­nary — let­ters, books, di­aries,” Mr Fell said. “Peo­ple come to us al­most des­per­ate to tell a story they don’t want to be lost. And if they want to do­nate the items, we give them a list BY DORIS ENGLEBERT of ap­proved mu­se­ums. A fam­ily turned up at one of our road­shows with a grea­tun­cle’s trench di­ary. He talks about be­ing sent to the front and sur­viv­ing by hid­ing among dead don­keys be­fore man­ag­ing to crawl back to the trench.”

The sec­tion on nurses fea­tures Florence Green­berg “the Jewish Florence Nightin­gale”. The wife of for­mer JC edi­tor Leopold Green­berg, she be­came the JC’s food colum­nist and went on to au­thor best-sell­ing cook­books.

But Mr Fell stressed that the project was as much about what life was like on the home front as it was on the bat­tle­front.

“Diet was bad, hous­ing was bad, there was no wel­fare sys­tem. Many women had large fam­i­lies and spoke lit­tle English but they kept it all to­gether.”

Hav­ing con­trib­uted £400,000 to the £528,000 cost of the Lon­don ar­chive, the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund has given a £100,000 grant to­wards the North-West ad­di­tion. The to­tal cost is £250,000 and the short­fall is be­ing met from do­na­tions from the Roth­schild and Pears foun­da­tions and Ajex.

The Lon­don ar­chive was judged by Her­itage Lot­tery as the best First World War project re­lat­ing to life in the cap­i­tal it had funded and the ar­chive was show­cased at a West­min­ster event for MPs and peers last week.

Mr Fell con­tin­ues to pro­mote We Were There Too through road­shows at care homes, friend­ship clubs, schools, syn­a­gogues and churches.

Be­yond Liver­pool and Manch­ester, he hopes to fur­ther ex­tend the ar­chive to cover York­shire and Hum­ber­side.



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